RC Planes and the Cansat competition

In 2009, whilst I was involved with SEDS-India, we had initiated a cansat competition at our chapter in Vellore Institute of Technology. The next year on a team at IIIT-Hyderabad won the international cansat competition, a feat they repeated the next year. I have been thinking up ideas of how to make a reasonable cansat competition in India, given the restriction on launch of amateur rockets to expand the popularity of cansats beyond these pockets.

Given this background, I wanted to attend this introductiory talk to a workshop on aeromodelling and RC Planes given by a member of the Aeromodelling club at VJTI, Mitali Shah.The workshop is slated to run through weekends on Sunday at Maker’s Asylum in One Indiabulls Center from April 4.

At the time that I was doing engineering, there were several co-working and hackerspaces being developed in Mumbai. The advent of MAKE magazine in the US in 2005 brought on what was being touted as the maker movement. This saw the advent of makerspaces along the same lines as the hackerspaces. Maker’s Asylum is one such makerspace that has been evolving as part of this global maker movement. This is a welcome experiment among a group of models being tried out by people in India to see what works and what does not.

The talk today consisted of introducing the workshop which begins on April 4. The workshop is to include a day of theory lessons and then nearly 2 days of practical build sessions and flight at Mahalaxmi Race Course (one of the few sites in Mumbai which has permission to fly RC planes). I also heard talk of developing a wind tunnel and how accessibility would be much easier compared to getting hold of wind tunnels in colleges like VJTI and IIT in Mumbai.

During the talk it struck me that RC planes are good candidates to carry cansats for their drop.

Let me take you back to what is involved in a cansat competition. An amateur rocket is used to carry and deliver the cansat at a predestined point and left to descent along a parabolic path. At the competition we held in VIT, we launched the cansat from atop a building complex. With amateur rockets being severely restricted and RC planes having a relatively easier access profile than amateur rockets, it would make a great carrier plane for cansats. It would be something akin to the way Virgin Galactic plans to launch its rockets.

After her talk, I spoke to Mitali and she confirmed that RC planes would be able to carry cansats comfortably.

A cansat competition in India could thus be done as a part of RC planes competition already being held in the country or independently in collaboration with aeromodelling clubs replacing the amateur rockets. RC planes would carry the payload to a designated height and release it. The cansat would then after a few seconds of free flight would then parachute down where they could meet the data requirements sought in the competition. After touchdown, teams would have to search for cansats by fox hunting, which are currently done by amateur radio enthusiasts in Mumbai.

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